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Ben Smith

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Ball State University
In three years at Ball State, Keith Wenning has thrown for 7,254 yards and 57 TDs.

Cardinals QB unassuming star

– He’s wearing the Magic Blue Don’t Hit Me Jersey this day, which is how you know spring has sprung. It’s April now, November disguise be hanged. And so Keith Wenning’s last season – his final exam, if you will – seems miles and eons away.

“It’s good to be comfortable with an offense,” he says now, standing on the well-chilled 20-yard line here in Scheumann Stadium at Ball State.

“It’s a good feeling to be in an offense for three years,” he says.

“It’s a good feeling to have (guys with experience) out there and know if I can just get them the ball they’ll make something happen,” he says.

If I can just get the ball to them …

And again you’re struck by how unassuming Wenning is, how very un-Johnny-Football-like. He’s coming off a 2012 season in which he quarterbacked Ball State to nine wins and its first bowl game not directly affiliated with the Mid-American Conference, and the record book is thick with his fingerprints. And yet he hopes to just get the ball to people.

He hopes to do what he did in Ball State’s spring game Saturday, when he threw a touchdown pass to Willie Snead and another to Jordan Williams, and hit Snead down the middle for 36 yards another time, and just generally dazzled in a 55-28 Red victory over the White.

And, sure, there wasn’t a lot to be told from that, other than the fact Wenning is what he’s been for going on four seasons now, which is the Man. The Magic Blue Jersey kept him from being hit, for one thing. He couldn’t scramble around buying time because the officials blew the play dead after so many seconds. And there was the usual spring game weirdness; the scoring system seemed roughly based on golf’s baroque Stableford system, awarding as it did so many points for a first down, so many for a three-and-out and so on.

But the offense Wenning directed had only one turnover, a ricochet interception by Zack Ryan on the first team’s last possession of the day. Everyone available got to play, and nobody got hurt. There was even a play of the day: One of the participants in the halftime passing contest clonked Charlie Cardinal in the head with an errant throw.

“It was a productive day,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “Some good, some bad, some ugly. … It was a good finale to what has been a pretty productive spring.”

And Wenning?

The guy will actually say boo now, in his third spring as Lembo’s QB.

“He’s really broken out of his comfort zone as a person,” Lembo says. “And what I mean by that is, he’s become a lot more vocal in the locker room. He’s become a lot more vocal even with me. He’ll come in my office now and tell me what’s on his mind.

“Keith’s one of those guys that’s such a team player he’s going to go with whatever we want to call. So he’s progressing, I think, in terms of his leadership.”

Wenning sure hopes so. In his quiet way, he says he’s “never satisfied with anything,” although he’ll instinctively shy away from making a big deal of that. Three years, 7,254 yards and 57 touchdown passes into a career that’s on course to eclipse any in school history, he might be the Man – might, in fact, be the best returning quarterback in the MAC – but lord knows he’s not going to get all swagger-y about it.

“I try to do that without having a sense of cockiness,” he says. “I try to come out there at practice day in and day out and tell myself I’m the best, and work my hardest at it. But I try not to be cocky or anything like that.”

Heaven forbid.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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